In recent years, much of the electric vehicle (EV) charging press and attention has focused on DC Fast, or high speed, charging options. While there is tremendous value in DC Fast for certain types of locations, as we think about building a national public charging network that will meet the needs of all drivers and communities, Level 2 charging provides a myriad of benefits that will speed EV adoption. This post will provide a clear definition of Level 2 charging as well as a comprehensive overview of its benefits to maximize utilization for drivers, funds for communities, and energy for the grid.
As a refresher, there are three distinct types of EV charging. “L2” charging, also known as Level 2 charging, provides a meaningful charge to most vehicles in a few hours. The power that Level 2 delivers falls in between plugging your car into an ordinary household outlet (Level 1) and the fastest type of charging currently available (DC Fast Charging). Level 2 chargers operate on a 208 volt or 240 volt circuit, with the former found in commercial settings and the latter used in private residences (as the “household” circuit that typically powers appliances such as electric dryers or ovens) and can provide a broad range of charging speeds, providing about 25 miles of range per hour of charging. For example, a 240-volt Level 2 charger is capable of fully charging a Nissan LEAF or Tesla Model 3 in about eight hours.
The US has a growing number of public EV charging ports, over three-fourths of which are Level 2.
More than 80% of the U.S. population lives in urban areas, with many living in multi-unit dwellings making at-home EV charging challenging, if not impossible. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has projected that at least 25% and possibly as many as 65% of electric vehicle drivers will not have consistent access to home charging. To meet the resulting demand for public charging options, McKinsey estimates demand for 740,000 EV chargers at ‘Retail and Destination’ locations by 2030, 90% of which would be Level 2.
Current and prospective EV drivers have shown a preference for incorporating charging into their daily routines in their communities, with 73% of respondents noting they would find it convenient to charge their vehicle while at the grocery store and 70% preferring to charge while dining at a restaurant. In addition to the benefit of “topping-off” the battery while running errands, Level 2 charging is a good fit for charging at destinations that require longer visits, such as sports and entertainment venues and movie theaters. For example, an EV driver can head to a baseball game and plug in at a Level 2 station to receive about 100 miles of range in 4 hours - all while enjoying the game and without worrying about interrupting the fun to move their car (a possibility when using a higher speed charger designed to offer a full charge in minutes rather than hours).
In addition to the convenience factor, the bill after fueling up at a Level 2 station may be significantly less than if at a high speed DC Fast station. Recent announcements stating cost increases of nearly $0.50 price-per-kWh for DC Fast charging would cost about the same amount as fueling a gas powered car, based on today’s average gas price. Level 2 charge points generally cost much closer to the average of what drivers would pay at a home for electricity; in California’s case that is $0.26 per kWh.
Even if cost isn’t a factor, it is important to note that today some electric vehicles can’t even charge as fast as the DC Fast chargers’ power can supply. More specifically, if a car cannot be charged at high capacity (due to having a smaller battery size which affects the amount of power the vehicle accepts), the speed at which the car charges does not matter if you are connected to a fast charging station or not. For example, if two vehicles with similar sized batteries are charging side by side at a high-power DC Fast charging station, but one can only accept 50 kW of DC Fast power and the other 250 kW, then the latter will charge much faster (and the charge will cost much less) than the former.
Substantial investment is required to install and maintain the EV charging infrastructure needed to keep pace with the rapid growth in EV adoption. Estimates show that global clean transport spending will exceed $450 billion in 2022 and that the cost of hardware, planning, and installation for the millions of public chargers needed in 2030 will require around $35 billion (five times more than Biden Administration’s funds for EV charging infrastructure).
For communities that are thinking about making an investment in a charging product, there are options and tradeoffs on how to allocate dollars and chargers to best support the needs of the residents. When considering building out equitable and distributed networks, the cost to source the power and install Level 2 charging is less than the cost to install high speed DC Fast because Level 2 stations typically pull power from the existing infrastructure and in most cases do not require utility upgrades. DC Fast stations generally require expensive upgrades and a separate service from the utility company, which drives up installation costs. The International Council on Clean Transportation estimates the average capital cost per Level 2 charger is around $3,000, or 9-44 times less than a DC Fast charger, making it a more viable solution at scale, and especially in locations that do not necessitate high speed charging.
In general, costs (production, installation, and operation) and charging tariffs increase with the increasing power of charge points, so the lower price tag that comes with Level 2 chargers allows for more chargers to be installed and enables available funds to stretch further both for communities and their drivers dependent on public charging networks.
In addition to the cost savings of Level 2 stations, these community-friendly assets take less time to install than DC Fast stations. DC Fast installations often require bringing additional power to a site, and this utility coordination process can add months to a project timeline. This already lengthy process is now further delayed by the global supply chain crisis driven by COVID-19. This disruption led to shortages of distribution transformers, which are required for the installation of DC Fast stations. Utilities have reported wait times of over a year to get transformers and costs skyrocketing from $3,000 to $4,000 per transformer before the shortage to more than $20,000. Since Level 2 stations less frequently require transformer equipment, they serve as an easy alternative solution for cities looking to continue to build out charging networks amidst these conditions.
Much has been said about the impact of EV charging on the grid. While the effects will vary from utility to utility depending on the current state of grid infrastructure, it is clear that the increasing number of EVs on the road will require more grid capacity. The need for a robust power grid is a real concern (with the annual demand for electricity to charge EVs modeled to surge by 1,990% in 2030), nevertheless, cities can make choices about the type of network to install to best meet the needs of drivers and the grid.
Level 2 charging is shown to be a grid-friendly solution that allows for a larger quantity of chargers given the current grid infrastructure. The ability to introduce a higher volume of Level 2 stations into the public market helps to promote and accelerate EV adoption as grid capacity issues are addressed. The enormous demands of DC Fast chargers on the local grid (especially having many vehicles plugged into DC Fast stations in one area), paired with the cost of upgrading the grids and the site, make Level 2 chargers a clear winner for many situations in cities and urban areas.
And when we consider cost as part of the impact on the grid, this is even more apparent. When a fast charging station is used, it causes a spike in energy usage, which can push a charging site to its peak energy load. This can trigger an additional charge from utility companies, called a demand charge. While these charges were originally designed to help utilities pay for the cost of providing energy when a customer’s peak energy load exceeded certain levels of utilization, they now have a broader effect on the roll out of EV charging infrastructure. Research shows that demand charges are a major component of charging costs for high power DC Fast stations, as DC Fast charging is known to cause highly variable electricity costs and energy usage spikes that result in these costly demand charges. Since Level 2 stations provide a lower power level to the vehicle, there is generally a lower risk of these additional costs of charging.
Public charging infrastructure remains a key component in the overall adoption of electric vehicles and each type of charger plays a vital role in the EV public charging ecosystem. It’s critical not to overlook the benefits of Level 2 chargers, which can provide a convenient service for drivers in all communities, stretch funding for EV charging infrastructure further, and provide a more managed demand on the grid we all rely on.
VP, Public Network Development and Data Products
About The Author:
John Stuckey is the Vice President of Public Network Development at Volta Charging. In this role, he partners with municipal and civic leaders to build public EV charging infrastructure in urban environments — a critical component to ensuring all communities can reap the many economic, health, and environmental benefits of electric mobility. John also uses his extensive experience in scaling businesses and driving sales to lead the revenue strategy and commercialization of Volta’s PredictEV® software product, a machine learning tool designed to help key stakeholders understand and plan for future EV adoption and charging demand in the communities they serve. John started his career in fintech working with algorithmic trading and data products on the customer success side, eventually serving as the lead analyst for a new foreign currency transaction tool. He entered the EV space working for Tesla, where he managed multiple local teams over the course of his five-plus year tenure at the company.